“Sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself,”.
Posted by Robert Craven on Fri, 03 Dec 2021
What I have learned in ten years of writing by Robert Craven 2021
The great jazz musician, Miles Davis once observed, “Sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself,”. This is especially true of being a writer. It’s 2021 and its the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first ‘real’ novel GET LENIN.
I have often thought of taking it down off Amazon and giving it a full rewrite, but then I wouldn’t be doing it justice. I love its final shape as it is. To me, it’s like a footprint on the moon; the very first trip into uncharted waters. GET LENIN resembles the family axe in some ways; it has gone through five publishers, three full re-edits (including one tailored for the American market), four cover designs and became an audiobook in 2020. It spawned four more novels that became a series. I discovered, much to my surprise, that once a book is published, it has a life of its own. It travels, crossing countries, exchanging hands, and forging relationships hitherto never considered. It opens some doors and shuts others behind you. Some people you know will hate you for getting a novel out, some will support you; human nature is human nature, so maybe (as a personal tip), don’t go on and on and on all the time about being a ‘writer’.
A little background:
GET LENIN started life as a piece titled ‘Operation Iskra’ in 1996 (Iskra – meaning ‘Spark’ in Russian; it was the newspaper Lenin edited while in exile) as a short story inspired by Ilya Zbarsky’s memoir: ‘Lenin’s Embalmers’ I still have the early thirty pages of Iskra typed off from an old word processor and the notes in a pocket diary of that year I was writing.
Fast forward to 2006 and my fortieth birthday. Like any landmark birthday, I drafted a bucket list and writing a novel appeared at the top of it. ‘Iskra’ had always bubbled below the surface and reading Antony Beevor’s ‘Stalingrad’ seemed to bring the idea to the fore after ten years floating around at the back of my head.
And so, without any particular plan I started writing. Five years later and countless rejections, I posted GET LENIN up on the now defunct Authonomy peer review platform. GET LENIN did rise, stopping at 50 in the rankings in early May 2011.
Enter Tim Roux of Night Publishing.
He messaged me on the platform offering me a publishing contract on a 50/50 split. We spoke over the phone, and I took him up on it. After five years, something was better than nothing. He did spend time tidying it up, editing it and we devised a simple black cover with primary colours of Black, Yellow and Red.
He launched it at the end of June 2011.
And it did quite well. Night publishing moved to San Francisco and became Taylor Street, but within two years they released me with a modest royalty cheque, and I began looking for another home.
GET LENIN had had a good run, it had nearly fifty reviews so finding a home for it was easy. Another small UK press picked it up. But due to health issues, the publisher wound up their operation and now I had three novels in freefall. I got a lifeline from MKSP, owned, and run by Kim Much Emerson based in Utah City and my books went stateside again. She was a hard-headed businesswoman and after a year of barely making a dent with sales, we mutually parted on good terms. I left with three thoroughly edited manuscripts, superb hi-res covers, and more importantly, a valued friend who I have turned to over the years.
It was time to embrace social media. I now had complete control of my material and went down the indie route in 2017. I created my own book covers; I wanted very simple images, something that would appear relevant to the era. And putting my own personal stamp on them; I discovered Canva and Creative Commons and having trained as a Graphic Designer, spent a week on Amazon, building the new covers. I ensured they got name-checked and recognised when I reloaded the manuscripts.
So, what are the things I have learned in a decade of GET LENIN? Here are my key takeaways:
- No matter how wedded you are to an idea, concept, or scene, be humble enough to accept constructive criticism – we authors are a precious breed and can become too attached to things that just don’t work and of course, we don’t listen. Humility and listening come with experience. Trust the feedback, mine into it, and work, work, work to get it right. Kerouac may have banged out ‘On the Road’ on a single sheet in a burst of twenty-five-hour inspiration, but it still had to be edited for publication.
- Social Media: It’s a given, especially when you are an indie; building a network takes time, I tend to avoid working with authors, but build connections in similar but non-competitive creative practices – I review CDs for an on-line Music Network and occasionally some of the musicians in turn promote my books as a thank you.
- Invest in yourself, get a website – this will act as the ‘hub’ of a wheel for all your social media backlinks.
- Temper your expectations; a million books a month are loaded onto Amazon platforms, when I typed the end of GET LENIN, I really believed Hollywood would come knocking, they didn’t, nor any agent or large mainstream publisher. But writing is good for easing anxiety; treat your story as a mind exercise and enjoy the journey the story takes you on. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment in completing the project.
- Never, ever leave your light under a bushel, I know one person who has a 100 000 hand-written manuscript (single spaced) hidden in their house. It’s no use to you there, send it out, take it out, rewrite if you need to – but get it out there.
And as a final thought; other authors and poets I have met think of their books as their children sent into the world, I see mine as trees planted in the garden and inviting everyone to come see them. I have nine trees in the garden now, some bloomed, while others stunted in the shade. But all my pride and joys came from the stem cuttings of GET LENIN.
Now as I start my tenth tree, (aiming for release in 2022) I think I have finally found my own voice. “…to sound like myself”
And look forward to the journey.
To find out more about me and my own writing journey, here’s my website